Friday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves marks the Kings 30th game this season, and for the third season in a row, we’re sitting at 12-17, with our second straight season of dealing with the possibility of being the 8th seed in the standings, and what that might mean for the franchise if it holds out. Minnesota was a media darling this off-season, considered by many to be that young squad ready to make the leap to the playoffs, ala the ‘09-10 Thunder, but under new coach Tom Thibodeau have struggled to overcome their own youth. The talent is ever present and on a night where the Kings don’t come out laser focused, the Wolves being too young to know they should lose will be enough to pull out a win. Let’s talk Kings basketball!
When: Friday, December 23rd; 5:00 pm PST
Where: Target Center, CSN-CA, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
For Your Consideration
Don We Now Our Gay Apparel? : It’s now been five games since Rudy Gay went down with a hip flexor strain, and with quality wins against the Grizzlies, Jazz and Lakers, but blow outs against the Rockets and Mavericks, Kings fans are starting to get that feeling of what a Gay-less team might operate like on a night to night basis, and that itch to pull the trigger on a trade gets harder and harder to ignore for some. But the case isn’t so clear cut: are the Kings better since Rudy went down with the injury? The Kings have gutted out some tough games of late, but how much about those wins is owed to the absence of the Kings starting Small Forward?
I guess a lot of this has to do with your current views on the Kings. For those rooting for the team as currently constructed, the trading of Rudy Gay can split the fanbase at where they see the team headed: those who see trading Rudy as a means of getting the Kings closer to a playoff berth this season, and those who think trading Rudy means accepting we’re still in this rebuild-but-not, and this is a smart use of an asset set to expire at the end of the season. It’s a KANGZ Catch-22. The Kings are trading their second best player but are they hoping to get better with the trade, or hoping to get worse? Is the thought that the gutsy wins aren’t some fluke, or do they know the season’s done and are looking to get something for next season’s nothing?
[For the growing group of Kings nihilists out there, trading Rudy is tossing the rubber duck from the tub, when what you really want gone is the baby that seems to be doing all the splashing. I understand your sentiments, but I’m not writing a basketball version of The Road so, it’s hard on this particular point to connect with the pitch forks and painted signs and torches.]
Gay is expected to make his return on Friday night against the Timberwolves, a team in which he torched when they came to town on October 29th. In the Kings first win at the Golden 1 Center, Rudy scored 28 points on 11-20 shooting, keeping pace with Andrew Wiggins who had a night of his own with 29 points. The Kings will have a difficult time beating this young team from Minny without him and that’s where things get a bit uneasy. This franchise is heading to a point in the season where the Kings have some tough decisions to make, and with every passing day comes the understanding that from here on out, every game for Rudy may be his last in a Kings uniform, and depending on where you hope the franchise is heading that could be a very good, or very bad thing.
Kings Focus: The Kings have played 27 games since their comeback victory against the Timberwolves on the 29th of October and so it’s hard to take many lessons away from a game where the players, much less the fans, didn’t know what type of team they were becoming. So here’s what we know about Minnesota. At this point in the season, they’re pretty damn even with the Kings in a lot of areas. The Wolves are 18th in the league in scoring (103.9 ppg), while the Kings are 21st (102.1), while the Kings are 17th in the league in opponents scoring (104.2 oppg), to the Wolves 21st (106.1 oppg). With Tom Thibodeau at the helm and the individual talents he has on the court, many saw a defensive juggernaut in the making, but at this point in the season, these Wolves just aren’t a good defensive team yet. They give up the 15th most three point attempts, so right in the middle of the pack, and are 19th in opponent three point percentage at 35.9%. They also allow the second highest two point field goal rate in the league at 51.7%, which means that on a given night, their opponents shoot an average of 46.6% from the field, the 5th worst percentage in the league. The Pups are also 23rd in steals and 19th in blocks, both of which surprised me when I saw that, considering the talent the team has at it’s disposal and the defensive acumen of the coach. The Kings should have a field day on the offensive glass tonight. With Karl-Anthony Towns helming the middle, the Wolves are still the second worst defensive rebounding team in the league.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Wolves fair a bit better. They’re 14th in the league in field goal percentage at 46%, shooting 49.1% from inside the arc, and 34.7% from behind it. Their issue arises, however in the amount of shots they get, shooting the fourth least amount of threes in the league. The Kings would do themselves a favor by keeping them in or below that average, as players like Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins could get hot in a hurry. They’re also a top 10 team in free throw percentage at 78.3% and are decent at getting to the line, 13th in the league in attempts. Led by point guard Ricky Rubio, they Wolves are only 21st in assists, and are also 19th in the NBA in turnovers, but make up for the giveaways a bit by being the 5th best offensive rebounding team in the entire league.
With both of these teams looking to make a run to close the year, the Kings and Timberwolves are going to see their opponents as a prime opportunity to really pick up the pace of the season. Each of these teams are winners in three of their last four games and are hoping that the last corner they’ve turned was the big one. DeMarcus has always gotten up for games against Karl-Anthony Towns, and I would suspect a better than average defensive game from Boogie. This might also facilitate the need for a couple of role players to step up and score out of their averages tonight to help make up for Boogie’s defensive energy exertion, and having Rudy healthy and ready to contribute would be a huge boon. Kings fans might also want to watch Kris Dunn tonight; the apple of our collective draft eyes this previous off-season, but has struggled mightily and who many Wolves fans have already said is much more a shooting guard in the league going forward, than a point guard. Though only 30 games into his rookie campaign, he’s already older than Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach Lavine and current back up point guard Tyus Jones.
Prediction: The Kings are going to struggle tonight at first. Full of expectation, they’ll be a bit trigger happy and spot the Wolves a solid lead going into the second half. In the fourth quarter however, the Kings are gonna clamp down and the defense will start looking like the US Economy with the kind of pressure they put on those 20-somethings to perform. No matter how many times they try to better their situation, the Wolves will find themselves rejected, due mostly to their lack of experience in the field, and at the end of the day, they’ll be at home with their parents cheering them on, but nothing to show for all their efforts:
Kings: 109, Wolves: 103